Can a design-led approach to redevelopment deliver city centre regeneration? A Liverpool case study of the design dimension of planning and development processes

  • Victoria Lawson

Student thesis: Phd


Faced with the problem of city centre decline, on coming to power in 1997 New Labour concluded that if people were to have more positive experiences of urban living, regeneration had to be ‘design led’. In this way, they envisaged an urban renaissance. At the same time, retail was also imagining its own urban renaissance based on the growing popularity of the city centre outdoor mall. Liverpool One captures this mood, both as an outdoor mall and through its explicit aim of developing a scheme in which design excellence would be applied throughout. Following its completion in 2008, Liverpool One now represents the first opportunity to research, in detail, this type of scheme in the UK and the impacts of its design-led approach on city centre decline. To conceptualise the study it draws on the three theories of postpolitics, semiotics and mobilities. While semiotics is an established urban design perspective, it is believed that nobody has yet used the emerging literature on postpolitics and mobilities to form a better understanding of contemporary British urbanism in terms of urban design. A key point to make is that the outdoor mall allows the private sector to take over large tracts of the city. Yet from the existing literature it transpired that there were few in-depth case studies examining how planning mechanisms can be utilised to stabilize opportunities for city centre space to be ‘excellently designed’ by the private sector in this way, and very little on UK city centre space being redeveloped into the built form of an outdoor mall. The mixed qualitative methods study aimed to capture and examine a wide range of perspectives and experiences of design-led regeneration, through 28 interviews, and also through survey research which was entirely conducted over the internet through a novel methodology which sought to engage members of the SkyscraperCity website. The gathered evidence was to ultimately demonstrate how exceptional design can have transforming powers, but also disguising and concealing powers across three key areas. Firstly, design-led schemes can be socially regressive. The promise of high quality design can be utilised to mask less democratic planning processes and can make a scheme acceptable where otherwise there might be opposition. Secondly, a culture of ‘lightness’ can exist around design processes that should be more embroiled in problem solving. Thirdly, while perceived as doing no harm, in finished schemes, high quality design can be used as an aesthetic device to make infringements on personal freedoms acceptable where otherwise there may be protest. Overall the study’s findings emphasise that ‘good design’ is not necessarily benevolent and there needs to be a rethinking about design-led regeneration. The challenge is how to utilise design as a more socially progressive force.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorGraham Haughton (Supervisor) & Deljana Iossifova (Supervisor)


  • Design best practice
  • Design excellence
  • Urban mobilities
  • Liverpool
  • Urban design
  • City centre regeneration
  • Postpolitics

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